By golly! Wouldja look at that!
I’m not inclined to review anything I wouldn’t recommend to my friends or to the unwary. After all, I’m not getting paid to do reviews, nor is this blog in the business of feeding culture vultures. But sometimes you run into something that is not good but is also really strange. Or maybe it has a few notable features of interest. It’s a real temptation, then, to present it to all and sundry with (best case) a bemused expression or (worst case) with a stunned, ashen face and, either way, saying: “By golly! Wouldja look at that!”
Yep. That’s precisely where the movie Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals resides. It is the final movie of a series based on a 1990s Japanese role-playing game. It was released in Japan in 1994 and here in the States in 1997, though I think it was only on VHS tape, not in any theaters.
I watched it! I did! Why! Oh, why? Well, mild depression, fatigue and boredom probably: three of the four horsemen of the psychological apocalypse will drive even the most sensible person to self-abuse. So I watched it, with dismay, through animation just one or two steps beyond that old Saturday morning television program Clutch Cargo, with fashionably snarky humor, fatuous dialogue, shrieks of dismay or triumph, endless explosions, improbable acrobatics, clichés for plot: in short, nearly every sin in the book but without sufficient imagination to invent new ones.
But wait! Legend of the Crystals is not just that. I would not have written this if it were. As the disaster progressed, I became more and more distracted by the musical score. That could be another criticism of the movie, as the music should compliment the story-telling not compete with it. Not all of the music was to my taste, but as the movie entered the inevitable and climactic orgy of violence and destruction, I found myself looking forward to the credits not simply for relief but to answer a question. Who wrote the score?
It turns out to be someone I had never heard of: Masahiko Satoh. But if you are at all hip to the Japanese jazz scene for the past half century, this would be a familiar enough name to marvel at my ignorance. He’s also done a considerable amount of film, television and advertising work. That implies a variety of styles, and it might account for the variety of the music that accompanied the movie. One could imagine Satoh, regretting his involvement, rummaging around in his bag of half-completed ideas then handing over various bits and pieces: Here, will this fit?
But the question of music also got me thinking about other aspects of the movie. It wasn’t just bad. It was also weird.
Let’s start with sex. Since I’m a guy, I don’t find a male gaze in movies and animation irritating so much as I find it boring. Usually. But this time it was a problem. The heroine is Linally, a teenaged (At least. I hope.) apprentice magician who, pretty much throughout the movie, wears a dress so short that it could be mistaken for a short tunic over tights. But it becomes obvious soon enough that she has no tights. Indeed, after she becomes the host to the Crystal of the Wind, her butt glows at various magical moments. Possibly this is some kind of in-joke among the filmmakers… breaking wind light… get it? Then there are the sky pirates: a crew of scantily clad dominatrix whose shtick sometimes resembles the Keystone Cops and, yes, pirate Captain Rouge has a thing for whips. Her crew acknowledges her orders with “Yes sir!” Thank God for no laugh track.
Let’s segue to gender politics, specifically machismo. The main protagonist is Linally, but she has a male sidekick Prettz. Prettz is the very model of young machismo. He’s loud. He wants to be in control. He lusts after Linally. He rides a motorcycle and wears a 1930s aviator’s helmut. For all that he is a pain in the neck, he’s handy to have around. And loyal. Indeed, later in the movie, Prettz is characterized, in a kindly way, as Linally’s dog. And then there is Commander Valkus of the imperial airship Iron Wing. Valkus is the very stereotype of a Japanese commander: rigid in devotion to duty, violent, focused, hierarchical… And Valkus falls instantly in hopeless infatuation over Rouge, the dominatrix pirate captain. Are these subversive of machismo? Maybe, but don’t get your hopes up, so to speak. One of the characteristics of snarky humor is a certain degree of self-depreciation. It might be that instead.
Finally, the movie was a Madhouse product. Madhouse is a major Japanese animation house. They’ve done some truly outstanding work. For just one example, Satoshi Kon did all of his work under their auspices. They’ve also put out a lot of brain dead and mind mangling product — Lensman, an animated movie vaguely based on E.E. “Doc” Smith’s pulp science fiction series, as just one example. (I lasted no more than 10 minutes into that one.)
So. Are you brave? Are you a fool? Is your life a barren waste? Until the copyright police visit, here is the English dub version of Legend of the Crystals. (You know, this might work with a half-pint of whiskey. Let me know how it goes.)